Loincloth: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Underneath the kilt, the god wears a breechcloth. in Pharaonic Egypt, any man was worthily dressed in a loincloth (and headdress), even a god's image for worship; here Amun-Ra

A loincloth is a one-piece male garment, sometimes kept in place by a belt, which covers the genitals and, at least partially, the buttocks.


History and types

Loincloths are and have been worn:

  • in societies where no other clothing is needed or wanted
  • as an undergarment or swimsuit
  • for symbolical purposes, e.g. in asceticism to express soberness[citation needed]
    • Mahatma Gandhi wore a dhoti, a Hindu loincloth, as a way of identifying with the poorest Indians, even though he knew it could be taken as a sign of primitiveness.

The loincloth or breechcloth is the most basic form of male dress, often worn as only garment. Men have worn a loincloth or breechcloth as a fundamental piece of clothing which covers their genitals---not the buttocks---in most societies throughout human history which disapproved of genital nakedness. The loincloth is in essence a piece of material, bark-bast, leather or cloth, passed between the legs covering the genitals. Despite this simpleness of function the loincloth takes many forms.

A breechcloth, or breechclout, consists of a strip of material---bark, cloth, leather---passed between the thighs and secured by a belt. A loincloth is a long length of cloth, passed between the thighs and wound around the waist in one of many fashions to cover the genitals with decency.

Breecloths and loincloths are garments of dignity among those who traditionally wear them. The styles in which breechcloths and loincloths can be arranged are myriad. Both the Bornean sirat and the Indian dhoti have fabric pass between the legs to support a man's genitals

Australian Aboriginal dance group wearing loincloths on stage at Nambassa festival, but in modern materials

A particular style of loincloth (more typical of tropic regions) consists of a single long strip of bark-cloth or woven cloth. This was used by the inhtabitants of the Austronesian speaking area of Southeast Asia and Oceania, where it was known as chawat [cawat], sirat, bah, bahag, maro or malo. The cawat/maro style loincloth is an important cultural marker of the region.

Various cultures in tropical Africa wore or still wear loincloths, often as (nearly) the only traditional garment for every day use. The loincloth of Southern African Bushmen, called xai, is a piece of skin roughly T-shaped with long ties at the corners of the arms. The free end is pulled in back and tucked under the ties.

The ancient Egyptians, both men and women, wore loincloths as underwear, the men beneath their kilt-like schenti. These loincloths consisted of fine linen cloths in a triangular shape with ties at the two corners. The base of the triangle was placed at the small of the back and the ties tied in front, then the point or apex was drawn between the legs and tucked under the string, exactly the opposite of the Bushman fashion.

Aztec Indians wore loincloths with or without other garments

A similar style of loincloth was also characteristic of ancient Meso-America. The male inhabitants of the area of modern Mexico wore a wound loincloth of woven fabric. One end of the loincloth was held up, the remainder passed between the thighs, wound about the waist, and secured in back by tucking. (Local names: Nahuatl maxtlatl, Mayan ex.)

In Pre-Columbian South America, ancient Inca men wore a strip of cloth between their legs held up by strings or tape as a belt. The cloth was secured to the tapes at the back and the front portion hung in front as an apron, always well ornamented. The same garment, mostly in plain cotton but whose aprons are now, like t-shirts, sometimes decorated with logos, is known in Japan as etchu fundoshi.

Some of the culturally diverse Amazonian Indians still wear some ancestral type of loincloth.

Bengal boy in traditional lungi

In most of (sub-)tropical continental Asia, types of loincloth such as the Indian lungi, often unisex or with a close female counterpart, remain in use as traditional dress, especially among the rural peasant communities, while city dwellers tend to adopt western style costumes. An elaborate, decorated form is also worn as the only garment in certain martial arts, such as Kerala's Kalarippayattu; like the aptly named boxer shorts, it must allow the fighters free, even acrobatic movement.

Japanese men traditionally wear (formerly always) a loincloth known as a fundoshi. The fundoshi is a 35 cm (14 inch) wide piece of fabric (cotton or silk) passed between the thighs and secured to cover the genitals. There are a hundred ways of tying the fundoshi, and in the modern age, men are coming to enjoy using patterned cloth for their fundoshis.

Men of Indo-European culture, Greeks, Romans and Scandinavians, wore the loincloth more or less habitually. (Women wore a fuller version, with ties before and behind, "bikinis" called a "perizoma", as depicted on the mosaics at Piazza Armerina.) An ancient version of the loincloth, the breechcloth, was found in the Alps on a ca. 2000 BCE archaeological find named Ötzi the Iceman.

After the fall of the Roman empire, the loincloth disappeared in Europe. Trousers of one kind or another, which had been considered a Celtic oddity in the Ancient Mediterranean cultures, were prescribed for men.

Loincloth-wearing peoples consider the loincloth an expression of modesty, but when Europeans conquered societies among whom the loincloth was traditional, the Europeans banned this garment as uncivilized and offensive to the Christian morality they usually preached[citation needed].


When Westerners once again came into contact with loincloths elsewhere, they viewed it as an exotic and indecent garment, possibly because the wearer's buttocks were partially exposed.

The connection of loincloth-wearing with "backwardness" became even more pronounced in the 19th century heyday of colonialism and industrialisation.

Often the only garment black male slaves in the tropical colonies were permitted to wear was a scanty breechcloth, while even working class in the West wore at least a shirt and trousers.

During the Second World War, Allied prisoners of war in the harsh Japanese camps often had nothing but a breechcloth to wear.

At present the loincloth is nearly extinct as normal male wear in the industrialized world, except in certain contexts in Japan. However, in some cases it is worn as part of tribal - or national dress, either for the benefit of tourists, by tradition or as a statement.

See also

External links

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